A blues folksinger born in Durham, England, Ruth Copeland first came to attention after marrying Jeffrey Bowen, a staff producer at Motown. When Bowen followed songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland over to their own Invictus label in 1970, Copeland was one of his first signings as she joined the fledgling vocal group New Play to become the label's first white performer.
Collaborating with Edith Wayne and future P-Funk producer Ron Dunbar, Copeland wrote "Music Box," New Play's debut single, and the second ever Invictus release. However, the group broke up soon after its release and Copeland began planning for a solo career. She also struck up an unlikely partnership with George Clinton and became a massively influential force on Parliament's debut album, 1971's Osmium. Not only did she co-produce the sessions, she also wrote what remain two of the most bizarre (and decidedly unfunky) songs in that band's entire repertoire, the haunting "Little Old Country Boy" and "The Silent Boatman." Two further songs, "Come In Out of the Rain" (co-written with Clinton) and "Breakdown" (with Clinton and Clyde Wilson) appeared as Parliament singles in 1971 and 1972.
Copeland's partnership with Clinton naturally flowed into her solo career. Viewed today as a virtual twin of Osmium, her Self Portrait debut featured contributions from Eddie Hazel, Lucius Ross, Bernie Worrell, Billy "Bass" Nelson, Tiki Fulwood, and Clinton himself, while the co-writes included a new version of the epic "The Silent Boatman.
Late 1971 brought the release of Copeland's second album, I Am What I Am, recorded with many of the same musicians as its predecessor, only now they were her own band. In an odd twist, Hazell, Worrell, Fulwood, and Nelson had all quit Parliament/Funkadelic, but remained together to back Copeland, first in the studio and then on tour as she promoted the album. The tour was a success; the shows were solid and the audiences receptive. Unfortunately, Copeland quickly found herself in an uncomfortable position. Touring as support to Sly Stone, she took to introducing her band as Funkadelic -- much to the headliner's annoyance. The last straw came when she allowed the band to take one of her encores. Stone insisted she either leave the tour or lose the band. She lost the band.
Following her solo success in 1971 and 1972, Copeland faded from the spotlight. She would re-emerge briefly in 1976 with her third album, Take Me to Baltimore, but it did little and she once more retreated into shadow. ~ Amy Hanson